NEAR the start of September, five years and one day after I set off from Gravesend, I found myself heading out of Carlisle on a route that would lead me to the Scottish border. Not only was this the start of the sixth year of this walking endeavour but the day would end with my stepping foot in Scotland for the first time in thirty-eight years. It was not unexciting.
The day began with the first possible train out of London, which deposited me mid-morning in Carlisle.
I HAVE had many alarm clocks over the years and, given time, I can learn to sleep through any of them. But a faceful of blinding solar emanations is always difficult to sleep through, which how I came to be up and about and haring for a bus on the third and final day of my mid-August trip. I made it to the bus stop with just minutes to spare and mentally thanked the great, glowing orb in the sky.
ON THE second morning of my mid-August trip, I awoke to the grey diffuse light and gentle pitter-patter of the rain that had been promised by the Met Office. Fortunately, I had prepared for this eventuality by packing waterproof walking gear. Well, mostly waterproof. I walked in it anyway
I quickly decided that were I to stay and have breakfast, I’d never go out in the rain. Instead I’d spend the day in the warm and then catch a bus to Carlisle. That was hardly the point of my trip, so I forced myself outside. It was cold. It was wet. But now that I was out in it, I was in fairly high spirits. The road beckoned, promising a damp and drizzly adventure.
IN THE middle of August, despite rain being forecast, I made my way back up to Cumbria for the purpose of further perambulatory diversions.
Having left London at a time known only to insomniacs and chorusing birds, I alighted in Maryport sometime mid-morning to find the small town in bustling holiday mood. I immediately went looking for an ice cream; the sunshine was mocking the Met Office with a vengeance—it was more like Umbria than Cumbria.
IT WAS my intention to awake bright and early on the last day of my early August walking trip. And technically, I succeeded. I awoke bright and early, turned off my alarm and promptly went back to sleep. As you do.
It was a couple of hours later that I actually surfaced, roused by the persistent sunshine that was streaming in through my hotel room window. I decided to take the sun’s subtle hint — one ignores a thermonuclear fireball at one’s peril — and was soon kitted up, checked out and ready to perambulate. I would be starting my day with north-west England’s one and only proper set of sea cliffs: St Bees Head.
ALTHOUGH there is a certain purist joy in staying overnight at the start and end point of each walk, so that all the travelling that you are doing between places is on foot, there is a whole different kind of joy in starting the day already ensconced in a hotel at your end point. This kind of joy entails the ability to dump all your heavier things in your hotel room, safe in the knowledge that you’ll walk back to them later. It is a ‘travelling light’ kind of joy.
This was, of course, what I was doing when I caught a train from St Bees to Ravenglass in order to spend the day walking back to St Bees (the railway version of the journey was around sixteen times faster).
I SHOULD know better than to try to make plans. Staying overnight in Millom, for instance, so that I could just get up early and start walking. That was a plan right up until the day before, when my hotel turned out not to have an actual room for me to stay in.
Some last-minute problem-solving saw me staying at St Bees instead, which meant that my hotel was right next to a beach but not, unfortunately, next to Millom. My earliness would now be constrained by the railway and the rest of my plans would have to be somewhat fluid…
THE morning of the 13th of June brought humidity and haziness in place of the scorching sunshine of the previous day. While I devoured my breakfast, I pondered which was better for walking and came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter because I was going to walk in it anyway. My rapidly disappearing breakfast agreed with me entirely — deliciousness clearly implies agreement.
Breakfast was all but demolished when it occurred to me that the Lemming was also walking with me for the day and that we had arranged to meet at breakfast. What we hadn’t done was actually meet at breakfast.
HAVING ‘enjoyed’ torrential rain on my previous walk, I waited until the weather seemed slightly more promising before returning to Cumbria. The forecast in mid-June was for sunshine one day and probable rain the next. Slathered in sunscreen but half-expecting a downpour, I found Barrow-in-Furness basking beneath blue skies and looking somewhat better in the sunshine. Not by much, admittedly, but better nonetheless.
I RETURNED to Cumbria at the start of May to resume my pedestrian adventure. I hadn’t really planned to, indeed I had other plans for the long bank holiday weekend, but I decided at the last minute that maybe, just maybe, I could fit in a single day’s walking. And so, I set off, without even checking the weather forecast.
I arrived in Cumbria amid a driving downpour, which mercifully soon lessened to alternate between drizzle and moderate rain. Still, it felt right, if by “right” I meant “damp” — this was traditional Cumbrian weather in all its watery glory. I would continue to be inundated with tradition for the rest of the day but, fortunately, I had recently invested in some properly waterproof clothing, which I trusted would keep me warm and dry.